A temporary moratorium to stem a staggering number of foreclosures in California is unlikely, but consumer advocates hope the state's largest lenders will take more steps to help beleaguered homeowners.

Nearly 7,000 homes were sold at foreclosure auctions in May, about 15 percent of all real estate in California, according to Sean O'Toole of Foreclosure Radar.

"No lender will unilaterally agree to a moratorium, which isn't surprising to us," said Kevin Stein, assistant director of the California Reinvestment Coalition, a network of advocacy groups that appealed in May to six of the state's leading lenders.

Washington Mutual hasn't taken a position on the moratorium, according to spokeswoman Olivia Riley, who said the bank has "programs in place to assist our customers in this challenging environment"

The coalition continues to talk with lenders, pleading for more assistance to homeowners.

A rescue couldn't come too soon for Laura Merchant, a Live Oak resident who's in danger of losing the house she owned for 33 years. While contesting her termination as a checker at Albertsons, she accepted what she thought was a Band-Aid loan to tide her over until her job situation stabilized.

"All I wanted was to establish my credit," she said.

But when she went to use her home equity to help pay for her daughter's college education, she said she found her home had been transferred to Leonard Bernot, the agent who had offered to find her a loan. After a three-year fight, the $750,000 home is back in her name, but she's lost equity, which she wants back. She has a month to refinance but the situation has made it nearly impossible for her to get a loan.

Bernot, who faces three felony charges, is scheduled to appear in court Aug. 13.

"Let's put out a Laura's Law," said Merchant, calling on legislators for refinancing relief for victims of foreclosure fraud. "We have nowhere to go"

The number of homeowners having trouble making mortgage payments stands at 397 so far this year, about double last year's numbers, according to the Santa Cruz Record. About half are in foreclosure, and 117 have lost homes in foreclosure sales.

The problems are worse in neighboring Monterey County, where 1,156 have received default notices, quadruple last year's numbers. As in Santa Cruz, about half of the Monterey properties are in foreclosure.

In the tri-county area, which includes San Benito, a whopping 531 homeowners have lost their homes in a foreclosure sale, 10 times the number compared to a year ago.

Vern Johnson, who presides over sales of foreclosed properties outside the Santa Cruz County Government Center, called out three sales Friday at 1:30 p.m.

One in Ben Lomond and another in Live Oak were postponed, and in one case, the owner had filed for bankruptcy. The third, 145 Holly Drive, Watsonville, was sold back to the lender for $553,295. The Watsonville property had been purchased just 13 months ago.

Watsonville is buzzing with foreclosure activity, with 81 properties taken back by lenders, compared to 45 in Santa Cruz, according to RealtyTrac, an online foreclosure listing service.

"It's only going to get worse," Johnson predicted. "They are more strict with new loans, and there are fewer no-money down loans — although I just saw a sign saying 'loans with no money down.' "